Road as well as the rail mode of coal transport are not performing up to the expectations, which is leading to inadequate coal stock at power plants that are located at far distances from mines, according to the Coal Ministry. In a note dated October 24, 2018, the Coal Ministry told the committee of secretaries (COS) — which has been formed to deal with various coal sector issues — that road transportation of coal faces significant issues “including environmental concerns and resistance from local population”.
“For example, to load one coal rake (about 4,000 tonne), it needs around 250-300 round trips of coal tippers (capacity range of tippers is from 15 metric tonne to 18 metric tonne). Going forward, coal mining companies should focus on increased use of conveyor belts or overhead ropeways,” the ministry added. The ministry suggested that companies should evaluate feasibility of conveyor belts or pipe conveyors or overhead ropeways for coal being transported to a point that is in between 10 to 50 km of distance. “This will eliminate trucking to reduce diesel consumption, pollution and cost of transportation,” it added.
The shortfall in production as well as transportation issues has affected coal stocks in power plants across the country. According to the data of CEA (Central Electricity Authority), the number of non-pithead plants that have either “critical” or “super-critical” stock of coal rose from 16 to 25 between June 27 and November 14, respectively. Non-pithead plants are the ones that are not located near the coal mines.
In January this year, the Union Power Ministry had said that India would need 615 million tonnes of coal in 2018-19 and that would require state-run Coal India Limited (CIL) to send average 288 rakes per day through railways. However, according to Coal Ministry data, average overall loading has been 270.8 rakes per day as on October 21, 2018.
According to the October 24 note of coal ministry, there will be a spurt in demand of coal transport through railways only. The ministry estimates that coal supply through road is unlikely to increase significantly. Since current transport infrastructure is finding difficult to supply sufficient coal stocks to power plants, the coal ministry has stated in its note that it is developing various new rail links, rapid loading systems and major road infrastructure.
For example, one of the rail link that is being established is between Lingaraj open cast mine and existing Deulbeda siding in Odisha. Its distance is of 3.6 km and coal ministry expects that it would be completed by March next year. Similarly, a 53.2 km-long railway line is being established between Bhadrachalam road to Sattupalli in Telangana to help coal transport from four mines of Singareni Collieries Company Limited (SCCL). The Coal Ministry expects that this line would be completed by September next year. Around 53 per cent and 28 per cent of the coal transport takes place through rail route and road route, respectively. Remaining coal is supplied through other means.